“I feel like a leper.”
This has been the overwhelming response I have received from unvaccinated Christians when asked how they are feeling right now. Unwelcome. Misunderstood. Dangerous.
Less than four months since the Delta outbreak, the status of unvaccinated Australian citizens has rapidly changed for the worse, demonstrating just how effective government and media campaigns have been in changing people’s perceptions around “the jab”.
To be unvaccinated with the Covid-19 vaccine has become synonymous with being infected with Covid-19. Those who are vaccinated are applauded, while those who are not are broadly demonised as selfish and misinformed.
Families, communities, workplaces and churches have been divided by fear and sharp opinion over the covid-19 vaccines. Such division should make us weep, especially when it characterises our interactions with one another as the body of Christ.
This growing chasm between the unvaccinated and vaccinated will widen as lockdown restrictions ease and freedoms are restricted to those who refuse the vaccine. If churches re-open and vaccine passports are required, such measures will only serve to entrench the segregation and discrimination of the unvaccinated and intensify our feelings of isolation.
As an unvaccinated Christian, I’m not asking for sympathy nor am I trying to convince you of my position on the vaccine. But I am appealing to you to consider what many of us are feeling and experiencing right now.
So how am I feeling? How are many of us feeling?
We feel misunderstood.
There is a tendency to assume that all vaccinated people are pro-vaccine and all unvaccinated people are anti-vaccine. Or to use the more pejorative term, “anti-vaxxers”. Painting everyone who declines or hesitates to get a covid-19 vaccine with the same brush is demeaning.
We are a diverse group of Christians, just as our experiences and reasons for opposing the covid-19 vaccine and mandates differ. Some of us are biding our time before we make a decision, others are resolved never to receive the jab.
We are healthcare professionals, scientists, teachers, tradies, pastors, lawyers, academics, engineers, police officers, young professionals, mothers, fathers, teenagers, retirees. Most of us are pro-vaccine. We are not all “conservative” nor identify with “right wing” politics. Nor are most of us chasing conspiracy theories down rabbit holes on social media. We are earnestly seeking the truth, asking hard questions and praying for discernment as we stay informed.
But it’s not just our stance on the vaccine that is misunderstood. Our motivations are also being called into question. “Selfish” and “unloving” are words we often hear bandied around during online prayer meetings, bible studies and on social media. We have felt the sting of those judgments. And it has left us wondering whether our fellow Christians are ‘safe’ to talk with about the pressing concerns we have regarding the covid-19 vaccines and government policy.
Of course, these judgments flow both ways. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated Christians have been wounded by careless and critical words. All of us would do well to remember and put into practise James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Many of us are feeling exhausted.
The truth is, there is a mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that comes with swimming against the tide. The onus is often placed on the unvaccinated to provide a defence for why we support our position, as though somehow the science is a settled matter for the pro-vaccine side. It’s not. New evidence is constantly rolling in on the safety and efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines. Vaccine injury and death are on the rise. And there is still much we do not know. Let’s both come to the table with open minds, humility and grace.
I’ve lost count of the sleepless nights I’ve endured. Lying awake troubled by the impact my decision may have on my family, friendship groups and my ability to serve at church – and whether I am even welcome at all. Many of us face losing our jobs and livelihoods under government mandates. While many vaccinated Christians seem to be rejoicing, some of us are deeply troubled.
It is taking more and more courage to attend online church on Sunday mornings and mid-week gatherings. I pray earnestly that no one will bring up the subject of vaccines. A great deal of nervous energy goes into manoeuvring conversations away from someone asking me the dreaded question, “Are you vaccinated?”
And while I believe many vaccinated Christians are well-intentioned, their entreaties for me to “get vaccinated” feel less like encouragement and more like coercion. In hard times like Covid, Church is meant to be a refuge and Christian fellowship a sweet balm for the soul. Personally, I’ve never felt more alone.
Where to from here?
It is possible for believers to come to different conclusions on complex matters that are not black and white issues in Scripture. The only common ground vaccinated and unvaccinated Christians may find on vaccines and mandates is to agree to disagree.
It’s therefore important that how we disagree matters. At a time where division is rife in every corner of society, we cannot let it intrude into the church. The world is watching. We must not lose sight of the bond of peace that unites us in the face of many differences.
That’s why we need to leave latitude on the issue between believers and show compassion and understanding for the unique circumstances and convictions of one another. “But as for you, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or you as well, why do you regard your brother or sister with contempt? Each one of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10).As frustrating as it may be, we cannot change people’s opinions. But we can pray for one another and ask God to make us all humble and open to seeing the truth. And as we go about our day, ask God to help us filter our thoughts, motives, desires, words and actions according to what is honouring to Him and helpful to one another.